#2 – Houston Rockets
Well, it was about time we saw the type of effort the Houston Rockets were finally able to maintain throughout their season-extending 124-103 victory over the L.A. Clippers in Game 5. Such a turnaround wasn’t necessarily expected following consecutive 25-plus-point blowouts suffered at the hands of the Clippers, but there were plenty of folks wondering just what these Rockets were made of as Game 5 approached. James Harden was the most aggressive he’s been since Houston’s Game 2 victory, and it resulted in the first playoff triple-double (26 points, 10 assists, 11 rebounds) of his career.
Dwight Howard was also finally able to bounce back from a couple sub par performances, and (most importantly) stay on the court for his team with a 20-point, 15-rebound game of his own.
Inserting Josh Smith into the starting lineup played immediate dividends, as he brought a certain effort and focus they simply had not gotten enough of in recent games. The move also seemed to motivate the previously starting Terrence Jones, as the third-year power forward actually had his best and most efficient performance (12 points, five rebounds on 5-8 from the field) in several games. Trevor Ariza also came up big for the Rockets (22 points, eight rebounds, 8-12 FGs) and Corey Brewer’s energy was felt all over the court. Brewer had struggled throughout the series, but he managed to turn things around by stepping into the passing lanes and getting out into the open court in transition on several occasions.
The question for the Rockets moving forward remains will they be able to maintain such a unified effort on both ends of the court once back in Los Angeles?
#3 – Los Angeles Clippers
The recipe for a successful Clippers performance is fairly simple and straight to the point. You generally know what to expect from their “Big Three” on most nights, but games are often won or lost based upon what their supporting cast is able to provide along the way. When Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers combine to go 8-41 from the field, the Clippers are going to find it difficult to compete with any playoff team, let alone an absolutely desperate Rockets squad fighting to avoid elimination.
Part of that can be attributed to the increased tempo and additional physicality Houston seemed more comfortable playing with in Game 5. That’s certainly something you would expect Doc Rivers to address, as he knows this is absolutely not the time to exhale as though Houston is simply going to roll over and allow the Clippers to coast into the Conference Finals for the first time in the franchise’s history.
Rivers and perhaps some of the veterans on his team fully understand that shots will eventually fall, but the Clippers will have to find a way to match and even exceed the level of intensity they should expect to see from a still-desperate Rockets team. Not only do they have to do a better job at getting to the 50/50 balls and on the backboards in general, but the Clippers absolutely have to know that surrendering another 64 points within the paint would likely lead to another Game 7 situation, which they obviously want to avoid.
Who Wins Game 6?
The Clippers showed us they had the determination and will to overcome adversity both in the last round (down 3-2) as well as the early stages of this series (Chris Paul’s absence), but now is the time for them to prove to themselves they are truly ready for the next step by shutting the Rockets down at Staples in Game 6.
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